CVS snuffs out tobacco sales, rebrands as 'CVS Health'

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CVS stores nationwide stopped selling tobacco products on Wednesday as the pharmacy seeks to project a more health-focused image.

The move comes as the company changes its corporate name from CVS Caremark to CVS Health (although retail stores will still be known as CVS/Pharmacy).

CVS has 7,700 stores nationwide, including nearly 60 outlets across 41 Minnesota cities.

The company's halting of tobacco sales comes a month sooner than the initial target date of Oct. 1. The company in February had announced it would stop selling cigarettes, calling it "the right thing to do."

Selling tobacco has become a "contradiction" to playing a bigger role in health care delivery, CEO Larry Merlo has told reporters. The company also does not plan to carry e-cigarettes, although it is monitoring U.S. Food and Drug Administration studies of the devices, the Washington Post reported.

The decision to halt tobacco sales has not hurt overall store sales, which continue to grow, and customer reaction has been positive, Merlo told the Post.

Pharmacies nationwide for several years have been under fire from the American Pharmacists Association to stop selling tobacco, but CVS is the first big pharmacy company to do so.

A Rite Aid spokeswoman says the company will "continue to evaluate the products and services we offer," Politico reports. Walgreens officials point to their wide variety of tobacco cessation products and services, and they argue that U.S. smoking rates would not decline much if the store halted tobacco sales.

That's a point of some debate. Critics say smokers will just buy elsewhere if pharmacies pull smokes from the shelves.

But CVS officials, in an article posted today in the journal Health Affairs, argue their action could have a meaningful impact. They cite studies in San Francisco and Boston, where pharmacies were banned from selling tobacco, that showed an overall drop in the number of households buying tobacco.

Ellen Hahn, of the Tobacco Policy Research Program at the University of Kentucky, told USA Today CVS' move likely would not lead to big drops in tobacco use.

But, she told the publication, "every little bit helps because they are such a large chain. If every pharmacy would follow suit, that would be best. But this sends a clear message that pharmacies should not be selling tobacco."

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